A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Practice Of Writing

I began writing in a journal when I was 13 in 8th grade.  What motivated me to buy a spiral notebook and begin to write?  I was going to a public junior high school in Brooklyn, a school that harbored small gangs of young preteen and teen kids who bullied other less tough kids.  That was the background of my stay at the school, but in the foreground were my immediate peers, the boys and girls in my class, many of whom I had grown up with.  In 7th grade I had been popular with a small group of boys and with my circle of friends, but that popularity fizzled out when I ceased to pursue a particular boy that I liked, one who seemed to like me for a time.  In 8th grade my focus returned to my girl friends.  

There were about seven of us and we were a nicely mixed group: Jewish, Catholic, Agnostic/Protestant, Afro American, Chinese American, Italian American, Puerto Rican and Irish American.  A few of us were relatively poor, some middle class and others upper middle class.  And we were all bright, going to the top "Advanced Enrichment" classes at school.  I was very happy to have these particular friends; I loved our diversity, our intelligence and our humor.  But we were not happy.  The more desirable boys were busy with school studies and sports, mostly focusing on basketball and we turned our attentions more and more on each other.  We functioned as a group but we also paired up and sometimes we talked about each other behind each other's backs.  Most of our complaints were petty, but still they struck a chord.  

I think I turned to a journal because I wanted to see my life as something important enough to write about.  Unfortunately, I was an immature 13 and instead of being thoughtful, I was critical of different friends and superficial and still thinking of "the boys" with frustration.  My writing skill was minimal and yet I took pleasure in writing some of my thoughts and reactions down in one place.  Soon, I was bringing my journal to school.  My friends became curious about it and started asking if they could read it.  I began letting some of my friends read it and not others, which caused tensions.  The chain reaction was that most of my friends began writing in journals too, doing the same thing.  Everyone began getting pissed at everyone else.  So I asked my friends to come over to my house and do what I thought would be a consciousness raising group (it was 1975-6).  You know, air our complaints, but also resolve them and become better friends.  All but one of the group condemned me and rightfully so, though I was too self-centered to see it at the time.  I was very hurt by their reaction, but I couldn't really argue because their complaints made sense. 

But something had happened to me between beginning my journal and sitting through that group meeting; I didn't stop writing in my journal.  If anything I turned more decidedly towards it.  It was becoming a part of my solace.  The next year I was off to a new school and the decision to continue writing stuck with me all through high school and beyond.  This had to do in part with my new isolation.  In grade school and junior high I had this circle of friends, but in high school I did not.  For a lot of that time I was alone, which would become more of a pattern with me into my adulthood.  So in high school I turned into a writer, mostly in my journal, but a  few short stories too.  From then till when I moved away from New York City I felt very close to myself when I wrote.  My journal writing gave my life some much needed meaning.  I cultivated my introspection and I turned into an introvert.  

I know the writing process was therapeutic for me.  I needed to be heard most especially by myself.  My mother or my two friends or later my boyfriend could dismiss my ideas, but I wouldn't.  I needed to witness myself.  And I did.  This was especially true during high school when much of life was in high relief and dramatic.  There were things that I could only express in my journal and not to a friend.  There was almost a surrealistic quality to my life and to my writing.  But I'll never know for sure because I threw away almost all my journals (save one small one) after I left the City.  Threw them away after a domestic violence episode and in a fit of self-hatred.  So passionate and so foolish!  

Throwing those journals away created a break in continuity in my life.  There was the time before I threw away my journals, before I moved so far away, before I got involved with a mentally ill and addicted boy/man and there was all the rest of my life after that.  I still wrote in a journal, often secretly, but the magic had gone out of it.  Instead the magic got redirected into songmaking, but when I became psychotically ill even that means of expression was shut down.  So again, I returned to journal writing.  I wrote out my insanity until I survived the breaking point and then wrote some more.  Little pieces of magic are returning, many here in this blog.  It's been almost 22 years since I threw away the journals of my youth and young adulthood and now I'm forming a new continuity for the second half of my life.  It's not as bright and youthful as it was then, but just as vital.  

I'm writing about writing because I haven't been doing a lot of it this past month and I miss it.  Sam let me read one of her journals from 8 years ago.  I was surprised and pleased that she trusted me with something so personal.  She's also left her acoustic guitar and electric bass over here at my house, another sign of trust.  Reading her journal made me re-read a few of my more recent journals.  Our styles are different, but we are both bright, articulate and creative.  The difference between us is that she is a more disciplined writer.  She writes daily.  There's no doubt in my mind that Sam is a bona fide writer.  I am a writer too, even with my lapses.  This I need to remind myself.  I have a history of writing behind me.  

Writing is important and not just for me, but for you.  If you aren't writing already either in a journal or in an online blog, consider it.  We need to tell our stories to ourselves first and then to others. Email exchanges and letters are great, too.  It's interesting, I have both a written journal and an audio journal and the two are quite different, though both are valuable.  The written journal requires more of me and yet it's worth the extra effort.  Either way, written or verbal, it takes courage to be honest enough to face yourself and tell it like it is.  

1 comment:

Karen May Sorensen said...

I started keeping a "diary" (with little lock and key) when I was about ten. One day my mom or dad got really mad at me and I seemed to think it was unfair. I remember crying and tearing the pages out of my diary. I didn't keep a diary after that.

There was emotional abuse in my childhood, but it is interesting that abuse causes one self to turn on oneself and destroy what is most personally precious.

We kept a journal in third and fourth grade and I've keep all of them from school. We were asked to write on a topic occasionally and the teacher would correct or respond.

I think you are a "real" writer like Sam, even if you don't write everyday. Don't forget, you have a lifetime of expressing yourself with the written (or sung) word. I don't paint everyday but I consider myself a painter.